Habitual Beliefs of Age or Nation

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given.

Bertrand Russell – The Problems of Philosophy

Corrupted

The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.

Thomas Traherne – Centuries of Meditations

Life in the Woods

I had this advantage, at least, in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel. It was a drama of many scenes and without an end. If we were always, indeed, getting our living, and regulating our lives according to the last and best mode we had learned, we should never be troubled with ennui. Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.


Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau – Walden or Life in the Woods

Nobody believes

Let us suppose that I have certain visual and tactual sensations which produce in my mind an association of ideas. For example, when sitting at the table in my study, I have those visual sensations which I call seeing the table and the tactual sensations which I call touching or feeling the table. And an association is set up such that when I have a visual sensation of this kind, a tactual sensation is present as a possibility. Conversely, when I have only a tactual sensation, as when the room is completely dark, a visual sensation is there as a possibility. Further, when I leave the room and later re-enter it, I have similar sensations.

Hence an association is formed in my mind of such a kind that when I am out of the room, I am firmly persuaded that, if I were at any moment to re-enter it, I should or could have similar sensations. Further, as these possible sensations form a group, and as moreover the group is found to enter into various causal relations, I inevitably think of the permanent possibilities of sensations as an abiding physical object. Actual sensations are transient and fugitive. But the possibilities of sensation, associated as a group, remain. The definition of matter as a permanent possibility of sensation is, however, ambiguous. For it easily suggests the idea of a permanent ground of possible sensations, a ground which is itself unknowable.

As for science, this would become a study of the relations between my sensations. But is it credible that if an anatomist looks at a human brain, the object of his examination is simply a set of his own subjective states, actual and possible? In short, the logical result of defining physical objects in terms of sensations is solipsism. And nobody really believes that solipsism is true.

Frederick Copleston – A History of Philosophy, Volume VIII: Modern Philosophy: Empiricism, Idealism, and Pragmatism in Britain and America

Counterpoint

5.6
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

5.62
This remark provides a key to the question, to what extent solipsism is a truth. In fact what solipsism means, is quite correct, only it cannot be said, but it shows itself.

5.621
The world and life are one.

5.631
The thinking, presenting subject; there is no such thing.

5.632
The subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world.

5.64
Here we see that solipsism strictly carried out coincides with pure realism. The I in solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point and there remains the reality co-ordinated with it.

5.641
The I occurs in philosophy through the fact that the “world is my world”.

6.5
For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed. The riddle does not exist.

7
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Ludwig Wittgenstein – Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

No Proxy

What is the truth of Prophetism which lays down that God can be known only indirectly through a favourite intermediary, a ‘Sole Begotten Son’ or a ‘Last Prophet’? Indian spirituality did not argue, debate or oppose. But did it not provide a complete answer? It proclaimed that the true Godhead was beyond number and count; that it had many manifestations which did not exclude or repel each other but included each other and went together in friendship; that it was approached in different ways and through many symbols; that it resided in the heart of its devotees.

A fateful thing has been happening. The East is waking up from its slumber. The wisdom of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism is becoming available to the world. Already, it is having a transforming effect on the minds of the people, particularly in countries where there is freedom to seek and express. Dogmas are under a cloud; claims on behalf of Last Prophethood and Only Sonship, hitherto enforced through great intellectual conditioning, browbeating, and the big stick, are becoming unacceptable.

Religions of proxy are in retreat. More and more men now seek authentic experience. Borrowed creed will not do. Men and women are ceasing to be obedient believers and are becoming seekers. They no longer want to be anybody’s sheep, now that they know that they can be their own shepherds. An external authority, even when it is called God in certain scriptures, threatening and promising alternately, is increasingly making less and less impression; people now realize that Godhead is their own true, secret status and they seek it in the depth of their own being.

Ram Swarup – Hindu View of Christianity and Islam

Physiological Optics

The sensations aroused by light in the nervous mechanism of vision enable us to form conceptions as to the existence, form and position of external objects. Our ideas of things cannot be anything but symbols, natural signs for things which we learn how to use in order to regulate our movements and actions. Having learned correctly how to read those symbols, we are enabled by their help to adjust our actions so as to bring about the desired result; that is, so that the expected new sensations will arise.

There is no sense in asking whether vermilion as we see it, is really red, or whether this is simply an illusion of the senses. The sensation of red is the normal reaction of normally formed eyes to light reflected from vermilion. A person who is red-blind will see vermilion as black or as a dark grey-yellow. This too is the correct reaction for an eye formed in the special way his is. All he has to know is that his eye is simply formed differently from that of other persons. In itself the one sensation is not more correct and not more false than the other, although those who call this substance red are in the large majority.

In general, the red colour of vermilion exists merely in so far as there are eyes which are constructed like those of most people. Persons who are red-blind have just as much right to consider that a characteristic property of vermilion is that of being black. As a matter of fact, we should not speak of the light reflected from vermilion as being red, because it is not red except for certain types of eyes.

Herman von Helmholtz – Physiological Optics

Sticks

There is no point in talking to someone who seriously claims that he doubts everything, as he is not a man. He is, as Aristotle expressed, similar to the trunk (φυτού ὅμοιος). He is not fit to become a philosopher. He is rather teasing for the sake of teasing. Jewish philosopher, Saadija Fajjumi from the tenth century, in his work “Knowledge of faith and philosophy” advises to starve such men and beat them with sticks until they acknowledge that they consciously and definitely feel hunger and pain. Truly that is an effective means to bring them to repentance.

Franciszek Kwiatkowski – Perennial philosophy

Morals

Morals are the only proper subject of philosophy; for these inquiries are practicable and useful, but the discussions about nature are quite the contrary, neither being comprehensible, nor having any use, even if they were clearly understood.

For it would be no advantage to us, even if we could with our very eyes survey the whole world, and the nature of all beings, of whatever kind that is. For we certainly shall not be on that account wiser, or more just or brave or temperate, nay, not even strong, or beautiful, or rich, without which advantages happiness is impossible.

Wherefore Socrates was right in saying that of existing things some are above us, and others nothing to us: for the secrets of nature are above us, and the conditions after death nothing to us, but the affairs of human life alone concern us.

Eusebius – Praeparatio Evangelica

The Problem of Meaning

The difficulties associated with “the arguments for the truth” of Christianity have given me sleepless nights; most of our core beliefs must be taken on faith. Significant intellectual difficulties, faced by a believer or an alleged believer, are not posed by the problem of proof, but by the problem of meaning. Statements specifically religious seem to me without any meaning.

A. N. Prior

Paradise

Christianity says, I believe, that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life.

L. Wittgenstein

The Supersensual Life

The Disciple said to his Master: Sir, how may I come to the Supersensual Life, so that I may see God, and hear God speak?

The Master answered and said: Son, when thou canst throw thyself into That, where no Creature dwelleth, though it be but for a Moment, then thou hearest what God speaketh.

Disciple: Is that where no Creature dwelleth near at hand; or is it afar off?

Master: It is in thee. And if thou canst, my Son, for a while but cease from all thy thinking and willing, then thou shalt hear the unspeakable Words of God.

Disciple: How can I hear Him speak, when I stand still from thinking and willing?

Master: When thou standest still from the thinking of self, and the willing of self; “When both thy intellect and will are quiet, and passive to the Impressions of the Eternal Word and Spirit; and when thy Soul is winged up, and above that which is temporal, the outward Senses, and the Imagination being locked up by holy Abstraction,” then the Eternal Hearing, Seeing, and Speaking will be revealed in thee; and so God heareth “and seeth through thee,” being now the Organ of His Spirit; and so God speaketh in thee, and whispereth to thy Spirit, and thy Spirit heareth His Voice. Blessed art thou therefore if that thou canst stand still from Self-thinking and Self-willing, and canst stop the Wheel of thy Imagination and Senses forasmuch as hereby thou mayest arrive at length to see the great Salvation of God being made capable of all Manner of Divine Sensations and Heavenly Communications. Since it is nought indeed but thine own Hearing and Willing that do hinder thee, so that thou dost not see and hear God.

Jacob Boehme – The Supersensual Life

Convenience

The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories. Ita is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own. But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence. Its becoming manifest is conditional on very special goings-on in very special parts of this very world, namely on certain events that happen in a brain.

Erwin Schrodinger

Imitation

Rest from inordinate desire of knowledge, for therein is found much distraction and deceit. Those who have knowledge desire to appear learned, and to be called wise. Many things there are to know which profiteth little or nothing to the soul. And foolish out of measure is he who attendeth upon other things rather than those which serve to his soul’s health. Many words satisfy not the soul, but a good life refresheth the mind, and a pure conscience giveth great confidence towards God.

If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not. Be not high−minded, but rather confess thine ignorance. Why desirest thou to lift thyself above another, when there are found many more learned and more skilled than thou? If thou wilt know and learn anything with profit, love to be thyself unknown and to be counted for nothing.

That is the highest and most profitable lesson, when a man truly knoweth and judgeth lowly of himself. To account nothing of one’s self, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom. Even shouldest thou see thy neighbor sin openly or grievously, yet thou oughtest not to reckon thyself better than he, for thou knowest not how long thou shalt keep thine integrity. All of us are weak and frail; hold thou no man more frail than thyself.

Thomas A Kempis – Imitation

Everything but a Feeling

LichtenbergWhen at different periods in life one speculates about solipsism (which considers all material bodies as nothing more than just our ideas), it usually happens as follows:

  1. First, as boys, we laugh at the absurdity of this idealism.
  2. A little bit later, this theory seems to us witty and presumable; we discuss it eagerly with people who in terms of age or education, are still in the first period.
  3. At a more mature age, we consider it to be very accurate, we annoy ourselves and others with it, but we think it is unworthy of disproving and against nature. Man believes that it is not worth brooding over it, because it seems to him that he had thought enough about it.
  4. In the end, however, after deeper deliberation this idealism becomes the truth quite invincible for him.

Please only think that even if there are any items outside of our mind, we know nothing about their objective reality. Everything we receive is solely through our impressions and ideas. The belief that these impressions and ideas are caused in our mind by external objects, is after all nothing more than just our idea again. There is no way to overcome idealism, since we would always be only idealists, even if there were material objects around us, because we could know absolutely nothing of the essence of these objects.

Everything is but a feeling; knowledge of external things would be a contradiction: man cannot go beyond himself. By judging that we perceive material external objects, we are clearly in the wrong, because we only see ourselves, i.e. our imagination. Nothing in the world can we know except ourselves and except changes which occur in us. Also, we cannot feel for someone else or as them, as we say sometimes: we only feel for ourselves. This sentiment seems strange, but on closer deliberation ceases to be such. No one loves a father, mother, wife and children, but only loves pleasant feelings that these people cause; these feelings flatter either our pride or our self-love; we love ourselves, i.e. ourselves in someone, but not that someone. It cannot be otherwise, anyone who denies this assertion, does not understand it.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg – Vermischte Schriften

Daydream

If it is true that the ability to be puzzled is the beginning of wisdom, then this truth is a sad commentary on the wisdom of modern man. Whatever the merits of our high degree of literary and universal education, we have lost the gift for being puzzled.

Everything is supposed to be known — if not to ourselves then to some specialist whose business it is to know what we do not know. In fact, to be puzzled is embarrassing, a sign of intellectual inferiority. Even children are rarely surprised, or at least they try not to show that they are; and as we grow older we gradually lose the ability to be surprised. To have the right answers seems all-important; to ask the right questions is considered insignificant by comparison.

This attitude is perhaps one reason why one of the most puzzling phenomena in our lives, our dreams, gives so little cause for wonder and for raising questions. We all dream; we do not understand our dreams, yet we act as if nothing strange goes on in our sleep minds, strange at least by comparison with the logical purposeful doings of our minds when we are awake.

When we are awake, we are active, rational beings, eager to make an effort to get what we want and prepared to defend ourselves against attack. We act and we observe; we see things outside, perhaps not as they are, but at least in such a manner that we can use and manipulate them. But we are also rather unimaginative, and rarely — except as children or if we are poets — does our imagination go beyond duplicating the stories and plots that are part of our actual experience. We are effective but somewhat dull. We call the field of our daytime observation “reality” and are proud of our “realism” and our cleverness in manipulating it.

When we are asleep, we awake to another form of existence. We dream. We invent stories which never happened and sometimes for which there is not even any precedent in reality. Sometimes we are the hero, sometimes the villain; sometimes we see the most beautiful scenes and are happy; often we are thrown into extreme terror. But whatever the role we play in the dream we are the author, it is our dream, we have invented the plot.

Indeed, both dreams and myths are important communications from ourselves to ourselves. If we do not understand the language in which they are written, we miss a great deal of what we know and tell ourselves in those hours when we are not busy manipulating the outside world.

Erich Fromm – The Forgotten Language. An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams Fairy Tales and Myths

The Doors of Perception

The sage came to the door of Heaven and knocked. From within the voice of God asked, “Who is there” and the sage answered, “It is I.” “In this House,” replied the voice, “there is no room for thee and me.” So the sage went away, and spent many years pondering over this answer in deep meditation. Returning a second time, the voice asked the same question, and again the sage answered, “It is I.” The door remained closed. After some years he returned for the third time, and, at his knocking, the voice once more demanded, “Who is there?” And the sage cried, “It is thyself!” The door was opened.

Persian story

Māyā

In time each instant is, only in so far as it has effaced the preceding one, its generator, to be itself in turn as quickly effaced. The past and the future (considered apart from the consequences of their content) are empty as a dream, and the present is only the indivisible and unenduring boundary between them. The substance of this doctrine is old: it appears in Heraclitus when he laments the eternal flux of things; in Plato when he degrades the object to that which is ever becoming, but never being; in Spinoza as the doctrine of the mere accidents of the one substance which is and endures. Kant opposes what is thus known as the mere phenomenon to the thing in itself. Lastly, the ancient wisdom of the Indian philosophers declares:

It is Mâyâ, the veil of deception, which blinds the eyes of mortals, and makes them behold a world of which they cannot say either that it is or that it is not: for it is like a dream; it is like the sunshine on the sand which the traveller takes from afar for water, or the stray piece of rope he mistakes for a snake.

These similes are repeated in innumerable passages of the Vedas and the Puranas. But what all these mean, and that of which they all speak, is nothing more than what we have just considered.

Artur Schopenhauer – The World As Idea. First Aspect